Stevie wonder: Reds' pulse, leader, and master blaster

Stevie wonder: Reds' pulse, leader, and master blaster

There was not a dry eye at Anfield last night when Steven Gerrard led his beloved Liverpool out for the last time, in a career spanning 17 years and 709 games in the shirt - 470 of them as captain.

And that is not simply those poor souls who paid £2,000 (S$4,150) on the black market for match tickets that cost between £37 and £49.

This, to Liverpudlians, was the pride and the price of loyalty.

The whole point about Stevie G is that he had opportunities to join Chelsea, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, even the dreaded enemies, Manchester United.

His head, and quite possibly his financial adviser, were telling him to go; his heart couldn't leave.

When Man United play against Arsenal later today, how many United supporters will feel the same emotional loss if that is the last time David de Gea or Robin van Persie, or even Angel di Maria and Radamel Falcao are seen in their shirt at Old Trafford?

Regrets, yes, especially if Manchester cannot retain de Gea, who has been the player of their season and who, everybody seems to know, is going "home" to Madrid, albeit to Real and not to the club who helped form him, Atletico.

And regrets, too, if van Persie, whose goals shot United to the Premier League title after he left Arsenal, has fallen out of love, and out of inspiration, in Manchester.

He is 32, Gerrard will turn 35 at the end of this month. But as sharp as the Dutchman has been, I doubt that, if Luis Suarez couldn't help Gerrard lift the one trophy that eluded him - the English Premier League one - van Persie could have done it at Anfield either.

But comparisons are seldom fair and, in this case, there is no comparison to what Gerrard meant to Liverpool.

He was weaned to play on that particular side of his home city.

He stood out to every teacher, every youth scout who saw him as a boy because of his ferocious tackling, his burning desire.

And if that showed itself to be the red mist, and red cards, that let his side down on occasions, it also transmitted a will to win that carried meeker fellows with him to victory. Without looking back through the archives, two performances stand out in my memory.

One was in Istanbul in 2005 when, with Liverpool down and apparently out of the Champions League final (three goals down to AC Milan), Gerrard summoned up the comeback of his lifetime.

He scored, bravely in the air, soon after half-time, and rallied the Reds to 3-3 by the end of normal time, and ultimately to win on penalties.

I can give you five reasons why that comeback was incredible - the defence of Milan with Dida in goal, Cafu, Jaap Stam, Alessandro Nesta and Paolo Maldini across the back line. In terms of leadership, I cannot recall anything greater than Gerrard's example that night.

The other example of his spirit? For me, it came in Munich where, against all historic records, England beat Germany 5-1 in a qualifier towards the 2002 World Cup.

Michael Owen walked out of that stadium with the match ball in a plastic bag for scoring a hat-trick. Yet, Gerrard, also a scorer, was the true reflection of a fighting spirit that Germany could not subdue.

In the event, Germans being Germans, it was them rather than England who made it to the final in Japan, where a certain Ronaldo - Ronaldo de Lima - scored twice in Brazil's 2-0 win at Yokohama City.

Ah, happy days. I have littered this story with enough world-class names to confirm to you that Gerrard has played in an era of some of football's finest.

Played against them, had his victories and, in my view, wrung those out through extreme desire despite, perhaps, not being as naturally gifted as so many of those he played with and against.

I would go so far as to suggest that there will be talents in tonight's Man United v Arsenal contest blessed with finer talents than Gerrard.

Van Persie and di Maria, if either is selected, would be two of them. Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Oezil and Santi Cazorla in the Arsenal line-up might be others.

What all of those have in common is that they are, of course, not Englishmen. They are, for want of a better description, foreign mercenaries, attracted to the EPL by the wealth and chance to further their careers in the most televised league on earth.

Cazorla might be the only man among those I have named who has a heart anything like Stevie G's.

And even then, he took various Spanish steps, from Villarreal via Recreativo and Malaga, to London.

Maybe only a romantic like Arsene Wenger would have overlooked the fact that he is just 1.68m tall, and thought that his passing technique and fighting instinct could make a career in England.

I don't wish to make Gerrard a saint. He has too many rough edges for that and, though it is a harsh view, I believe his slip against Chelsea last year cost Liverpool the EPL title he so craved.

Brendan Rodgers, the Liverpool manager, possibly overstated it - a little - when he said before yesterday's swansong that "Steven is Liverpool, not just the football club, but the place. He's done more for Liverpool than any politician could do".

No, Sir. Gerrard was, is and will always be synonymous with the wish to play for, and to lead, his boyhood team.

"I only wanted to win trophies," he summed up, "for my own people."

Very soon, Gerrard will take his family out west to a new life, a new culture and definitely a step down in playing quality with the Los Angeles Galaxy.

He will thus dodge the biggest dread in his lifetime because he departs Anfield when he says so, not when "his" people have to ask him to leave.

This article was first published on May 17, 2015.
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